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diapers, superstitions, omens, witches, remedies, pow-wowing, babies
A handwritten manuscript entitled "Diapers: die Windla," written by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated April 10, 1956. Within, Dieffenbach details superstitions about diapers and their effects on children later in life, as well as omens and tales related to witchcraft and pow-wowing cures.
Packet 577-215-17 through 577-215-24
Diapers – “die Windla”
by Der Oldt Bauer
Diapers are man’s first pants; likewise the woman’s, or rather baby-pants for those who are not boys. As they (the children) grow older they wear other styles, or none at all.
Diapers and buckwheat are homogeneous – both came overseas in a triangular form – “drei eckich.” Naturally, diapers are square in shape; but if folded diagonally, they acquire the triangular form; i.e. they used to be; but the modern trend is to pin them on square. And as the diapers change, so do the adults' pants.
Grandad wore the traditional barn-fall pants – “die lotz-hussa” – a broad flap buttoned up over, and concealing the fly – “der schlitz;” like the Amish and the Marines wear. He would not have known what slacks or knickers were.
The girls wore a nether-garment fashioned much after the self-same pattern; somewhat like wearing the men’s pants hind-foremost. Some said they are called – “wait-a-minute;” and I would suggest calling the modern version – “Ready get at ems;” seems appropriate.
Taking it by and at large, diapers took care of more excrement, than many a wheelbarrow, i.e. for their size.
When really saturated, and then hung up to dry, and pinned on a second time, they smelled as much like a rose as a turkey-buzzard with halitosis.
I used to see a little girl waddling, with so much bulky diapers ‘tween her fat little legs that, almost fifty years later, she still has the same gait.
When diapers hang on the line, and they shrink and curl up in the middle, then look out for rain; the humidity in the air causes shrinkage.
If a child’s diaper slips down while in church, it will go far from home when mature. Just like other signs and omens, it is not infallible. Once upon a time, a girl lost a garment resembling a diaper, at a picnic. She got so flustered that she never wore another one, lived to an old age, and never got out of her immediate neighborhood
Diapers are much like cheese; some are smoother — some smell stronger.
If a single girl lays a white diaper on the grass for bleaching, and then observes which corner raises or curls up, then she can see from which direction her lover or future husband comes, if, and when he does come.
If a baby wears a diaper made from new material, that has never been used for any other purpose, and then puts a real load in it, then that child will be very lucky some time in its life. The writer does not remember having worn one; and oft-times It seems as tho he never had any.
When diapers are ironed, and lying somewheres, and a cat lies down on them, then the baby will get the hiccoughs; and if it is a black cat, something serious may develop.
If a child opens the diaper-pin of its own self, and removes it, it will later be a very persevering person; if a girl, she will bear watching.
If the left side of the diaper is top-most when pinned-on, that child will be left-handed and will advance with the left foot first.
Should lightning hit the clothesline with diapers hanging on it, even tho they are not damaged, they should all be burned; whoever wears them will become an ill-mannered person, and will do unseemly things or acts.
If a cow eats a diaper saturated with urine, she will abort. If the cow chews on a washed diaper, then the child wearing it will be very rich. If the cow is black it means bad luck.
If it rains on the diapers while on the line, it is a very good omen.
If a child pisses in the diaper while being baptized, it will be a good singer.
When diapers are bleaching on the grass and a toad sits on one of them, then one should burn it (the diaper) at once, or the child will be full of warts.
If the baby gets sore or chafed, one shall take a brand-new diaper and in one corner put a leg of a bed-bug, an owl’s claw, and several hairs from a black cat’s tail, and sew it in the corner, and the witches will stay away. (This is very, very old.)
Never use a diaper that has a hole burned into it; if the hole be just as big as a grain of wheat, the child wearing it will someday come into a fire; and the bigger the hole, the worse will be the fire. (From my own Grand-ma.)
When diapers are folded and piled up while still slightly damp or moist, and mildew or mold develops, they should never be used anymore, or any wound or injury that child receives will fester, and develop gangrene – “der braudt.” (Also from Grand-ma).
If a child or baby wears a brand new diaper when first taken out of the room where it was born, and is at once taken upon any roof, it will become a wonderful musician. ( I tried this on my very first nephew, and, to my knowledge he cannot sing a note, or hardly carry a tune at some fifty years of age.)
If immediately after birth, a tiny bit of the baby’s umbilical cord – “die novvel-schnoor,” is sewed into a corner of its very first diaper, it also will possess musical talent. (Old Dan Burkhart used to say that he thinks they put in the entire cord in his baby-pants; he could sing two octaves lower than most singers. He was a wonderful chorister – “en fore-singer,” and also a band-leader.)
If the diapers hang on the line on a Wednesday night, in the dark of the moon, and are all twisted and tangled up next morning, one should take one of them and burn it on a pile of sassafras twigs or brush, and then scatter the ashes to the four winds – i.e. to the four cardinal points of the compass, and the witches' spell will be broken.
If all diapers are folded and stored in a chest or drawer, then locked, and the key put in a small silk bag and worn on the mother’s bare skin, then that baby will sleep all night without crying. She must wear the key day and night, for witches are supposed to be at their worst at night-time.
If a bird (some say a crow) flies over the clothesline, and voids its droppings on a diaper, or if spread on the grass, then if that diaper can be pinned on the baby before the droppings have dried, that child can live to be a hundred, and will never have vertigo, sunstroke, nor paralysis. (Very old, and said to have been verified on numerous occasions.)
If, at a wedding-reception, the bride holds someone’s baby, and it soils its diaper, as well as her dress, she can feel assured of some accident or some manner of bad luck shortly; if it only soils its diaper, and not her dress, then it is a sign of good luck.
If a baby cries at a funeral, and points at someone, that person or some member of its family will be the next one to die out of that “freundt schofft.”
Similar to the medicine-man of the Indian were the old “Grannies” or midwives, and “die brauchern” or “die brauch-frau” – the pow-wow-woman. From the capacious pockets of her voluminous skirts and petticoats, she would bring forth the implements of her stock in trade – secrets imparted by ancestors from a foreign shore. With crude equipment she would conjure the powers that be, to remove the impedimenta.
Long, long ago, when a very old man – an octo-genarian was overcome in the harvest-field, and had apparently expired, an old hag of a woman came, unannounced, and knelt by his side. Placing a tiny square of some white material on his bare chest over his heart, she began her incantations; meanwhile gently rubbing and massaging the flesh over his heart. After a while he commenced to move, and in a short time was able to sit up; he was then helped onto a litter and carried into the house. After a few days he was up and about – his usual self. When they questioned the old woman she said all she did was to lay a bit of his very first diaper over his heart, and then wish for it to start beating, and diligently rubbing and kneading the dormant muscles. Upon being more fully questioned she said – “Ich hob usht gadoo wos os Ich galernt bin worra – Ich deuk ‘s reiva hut sheer mainer gabott os es ivverich!”
She then told the assembled family that her mother had been the Grannie officiating at the old man’s birth, and had bequeathed to her numerous mementos for aiding her in her work. When asked how she knew that her services were required, she closed one eye, gave a furtive wink, and said: “Our sort of folks know when and where to go – we can feel that!” (From my own Grand-ma.)
I have heard the above expression on numerous occasions, and I am NOT sure if I do not possess that power, myself, in a limited degree.
April 10th, 1956
Der Oldt Bauer
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach on Diapers: "Die Windla," April 10th, 1956" (1956). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 184.
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Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).